Sunday, July 08, 2012

Libya Votes

Yesterday Libya held the first real elections in its history:
"When Fathi Triki went to vote this morning at a school near his house in Tripoli's old city, he made sure to bring along his young son, Taha.
"'I want to show him what voting is,' he says. 'Because now it’s going to be part of our future.'
"Martyrs Square (known as Green Square under Qaddafi) today was a carnival of patriotism. Men chanted under a sea of flags, 'By soul, by blood, I shed blood for you oh my country!' Cars circled, horns blared. A young man in shorts and T-shirt pranced merrily through the traffic crying, 'Allahu Akbar!'
I have no idea who will win these elections.  I haven't seen any polling, but even if I did. modern polling depends on being able to construct models of the electorate that simply isn't possible to the same extent in countries that have no democratic history.  What I want to spend a moment thinking about, though, is the reason democracy itself is worth something, regardless of who comes into office.

In 2010 most Arab governments were simply kleptocracies.  The economic resources of the countries were used to benefit the few, while the many were repressed to one degree or another.  In the case of Libya, it was an especially brutal and mismanaged kleptocracy.

Democracy is about people taking their destiny into their own hands.  Mistakes will be those of the majority rather than the handful.  What's more, in a functioning democracy, mistakes can be corrected.  Government is accountable to those who elected it, and must work to improve conditions for all.  That means ways to improve the economy to provide people with more, better jobs that will improve standards of living.  It means building the capacity of education systems so that people can achieve more of their potential.  It means improving infrastructure so that everyone has access to potable water, sanitation, and the like.  Over the long run, a government which has to answer to the population will do more of this than an unaccountable one.

When people fear Islamist government in particular, what they fear is a form of tyranny of the majority.  This, however, is a challenge for all democracies, and is where libertarianism and the movement for small government get most of their motivation.  It is a legitimate fear, but one to be fought within an accountable system, not a reason to avoid one.  Democracy has all the imperfections of human beings, but it remains the best form of government they have devised.  I hope Libya develops and sustains one.



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